Most would agree that it’s important to stay active in the later years of life, but 84-year-old Florence “Flo” Fillion Meiler is taking that to a new level.
The Vermont native is heading to Poland next Thursday for the World Masters Athletics Championship Indoor where she will compete in events including the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, pentathlon and her specialty, the pole vault.
Her favorite events are the hurdles and the pole vault – the sport which sees competitors launch themselves over a high bar with a fiberglass pole.
“You really have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the upper core and you have to have timing, and I just love it because it’s challenging.”
In that particualr category, she will literally have no competition – because she’s the only woman in her age group of 80-84 year olds. Despite her easy win, she’s not slowing down her exercise.
“You know, I do train five days a week,” she said. “And when I found out I was going to compete at the Worlds, I’ve been training six days a week because I knew I would really get my body in shape.”
Meiler grew up on a dairy farm, working hard manual jobs like feeding cattle and raking hay. She was always active in sports throughout school, playing basketball and taking tap and ballroom dancing classes. Professionally, she went on to work as a sales representative for Herbalife nutritional supplements for 30 years.
When she met her husband, Eugene, a military pilot turned financial analyst, the two competed together in water skiing. It wasn’t until she was 65 that she picked up pole-vaulting at the encouragement of a friend with whom she played competitive doubles tennis.
Staying active has helped Meiler and her husband persevere through hard times, she said, as they adopted three children after losing two of their babies prematurely, and one at the age of three. Two years ago, her adopted son died at the age of 51.
Sadly, Meiler also says she misses her training partner – a good friend who began having health problems about five years ago and can no longer train. She’s now hoping to find a new partner to hit the gym with, since it can be harder to train alone.
Her coach, however, testified to her strength and committment to her sport.
“She’s incredibly serious about what she does,” coach Emmaline Berg said. “She comes in early to make sure she’s warmed up enough. She goes home and stretches a lot. So she pretty much structures her entire life around being a fantastic athlete, which is remarkable at any age, let alone hers.”
“She was like a local celebrity,” she continued.
Meiler already set a record at the age of 80 after clearing a 6-foot pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adirondack Championships in Albany, New York.
“I was screaming, I was so happy,” she said.
As she embarks to Poland next week, she hopes to set more records and continue being a role model for other seniors.